November 7, 2000, I sat glued to the television as election returns from one of the most talked about elections in history flashed on the screen. It was Williamsburg, Virginia, and I was sitting on a couch next to my closest college friends. Most of them were totally not into politics, so they came and went. But to the left of me (in more ways than one), determined to stay up with me until the bitter end, sat Andy Crapol. Andy was a member of the William & Mary soccer team, and was the son of the mayor of Williamsburg.
Andy was an extremely likable guy, and always at the center of the campus social scene. But this night he was uncharacteristically at home - more interested in world events than where the night's biggest parties were. He not only enjoyed politics...he understood them. This was well-evidenced in the way he skillfully avoided a full-fledged political debate with me.
The election was called both ways that night, but an official resolution would not be clear for many days. But one thing was immediately clear - Andy and I shared a moment that, despite our dramatic differences, would live on forever.
Or at least I thought.
Cancer took Andy's life on March 13, 2009. I had received an email from a mutual friend in January that cancer starting in Andy's esophagus had spread to his lungs and liver. The prognosis was grim, and we were encouraged to email our good wishes and memories to help pick up his spirits as he went through treatment. My wife, who also went to school with him, wrote right away. I started writing five different times...and never finished. I never brought myself to complete or send a note of any size or significance. I failed.
I wanted my words to be perfect. I wanted to bring up the right memories. And maybe deep down inside I was looking for a way to insulate myself from the pain of losing a friend forever. Truth be known, we hadn't talked in years. I'm guessing the last time I saw him was at Homecoming in 2006. But here was a young, vibrant 30 year-old who was always one of the most likable people in the room no matter where he was...dying of cancer? How do I respond to that?
When I found out the news of his death, I instantly opened up the last version of an email draft I had intended to send. It wasn't poetic by any stretch of the imagination. But it should have been sent.
Friday, I flew from Boston to New York City on my way back to Greensboro. Flying over the Big Apple, I was amazed by how huge the city is. Not just how big the skyscrapers are, but how wide the city stretches. Millions upon millions of people, with millions upon millions of personalities, stories, wonders, pains, and joys, live there. As this amazement started to take over me, my eyes drifted to the largest graveyard I've ever seen in my life. And I wondered, of the thousands of people represented by the various headstones and monuments...how many left this earth wondering "whatever happened to that friend I knew back then?"
Is there something that you should be telling someone right now? Please don't do what I did. Say it. Hug him. Remind him of that time way back when. Give him a call. Take him out for a drink.
Friends are supposed to be there when friends need them. Sorry, Andy.